Tapusan Festival

Tapusan Festival
Tapusan Festival | @grupokalinangan

As we end this year’s National Heritage Month, let’s go to Alitagtag, Batangas where they celebrate the Tapusan Festival every last day of May.

Filipino Catholics dedicate the month of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the traditional devotion called Flores de Mayo. For the people of Alitagtag, the Tapusan Festival is their way of culminating the month-long devotion to the Blessed Virgin, as well as to the Holy Cross.

May 31 is a very important date in the calendar of the people of Alitagtag in the province of Batangas. They have the feast of Tapusan which literally means the end and it is celebrated in honor of the Holy Cross on the last day of May.

The Hermano Mayor, for the most part, volunteers and come from the wealthier and more prominent families in town and cannot pass the opportunity for its prestige. He foots the bill for various fiesta features, from the church decoration, church choir, and meals at open house tables for the whole day of festivities. At times, he can go into deep debt to provide something extravagant for the feast since it can be hiya, (a shame of not living up to the standard of one’s community) to have a small party. Besides feeding his guests at home, there is also the ‘takeaway’ custom of sending guests home with extra food from the feast table.

The Hermana will have a big gathering at her house starting late morning. She will serve lunch and dinner and snacks in between the day and everybody in the town is invited. The Hermana is also in charge of the big procession called “Santacruzan” (Festival of the Holy Cross) at night with floats, a band, and “Reyna Elena”. There is a contest on who has the best float. The floats are made by each “buklod” or village in secrecy so the other area will not know what the design is. Nobody can spy because everybody knows each other in the whole town and no person from another area is allowed in the area where the float is being made. After lunch, the ladies are frantically busy making the floral arrangements that the young ladies will hold at the parade. Young girls from 5 to 15 dress up in fancy long gowns to be in the parade. You have to be invited by the Hermana to be in the parade. The Hermana will be at the end of the parade, just in front of the float. Young children who are not in fancy clothes will tow the rope attached to the float. The young girls with fancy gowns will be inside the rope holding the floral arrangement with her consort holding a candle. The float is made to sit on top of a jeepney and driven slowly down the road, about one kilometer west of the ‘buklod” and one kilometer east of the “buklod”. Some “buklods” are more ambitious and will do two miles each way.

In Alitagtag, there is only one road in town, running east to west. Spectators usually go to the middle of the town to catch a glimpse of all eight floats, one for each village or “buklod”. Everybody in the parade walks slowly as they say the rosary. The band will be playing behind the float after each decade of the rosary. It is a very moving and festive experience. The whole town is aglow with lights. The floats are always fabulous and garner oohs and ahs from the crowd.

“Tapusan” is a day in May that everybody is looking forward to.

Once the month of May turns up, it signals the start of Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May). And often referred to here in Batangas as ALAY, which means an offering of flowers to the Virgin Mary.

The festival is said to have started in 1854 when the Vatican declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Was introduced by the Spaniards, and celebrated in Batangas and other neighboring towns after Mariano Sevilla’s interpretation of the devotional Flowers of May.

The religious tradition is held annually for the whole month of May. Prayers and flowers are offered to the Virgin Mary daily, until the 31st of May. And it is on this day, that the yearly Tapusan Festival is celebrated in Alitagtag town. The celebration is a way to give thanks to God and to the Virgin Mary for rain, for flowers and crops to bloom, and for a bountiful harvest.

Most of the barrios here in Batangas prepare for the yearly occasion with their respective hermano/hermana (person responsible for the event). The hermano/hermana starts by building the tuklong (temporary chapel made of light materials) with the help of the male villagers. Likewise, the female villagers are responsible for decorating the altar of the Virgin Mary.

It is usually the elderly of the village that selects who will be a lucky young lady to offer flowers to the Virgin Mary during the said day. The selected offerer is responsible for the snacks and preparations for the day.

During the offering, hymns are sung by the offerer with flowers at hand. While the organizers together with some members of the community follow the offerer singing a religious song.

The main event or the grand finale is on May 31. The big procession and what is commonly called the Santacruzan (Festival of the Holy Cross). The chosen pretty young ladies to parade the streets representing the different characters of the commemoration, the Accolades of Our Lady. The beautiful teens are dressed in their best gowns representing a range of Reinas (Queens) in the parade. Escorted by their handsome partner outfitted in elegant barong Tagalog (Filipino formal attire).

And in Batangas, the most notable parade is in the town of Alitagtag. All of the barrios of the town participate in the Tapusan Festival with magnificent floats garnished with flowers. A must-see event; the day starts with a marching band roaming the streets, lots of good food, and concludes with a big party.

Furthermore, if you are in Batangas during the month of May, this is your chance to see and experience the Flores de Mayo.


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